(Story contributed by Emma Davis ’17. The full interview appears in the Feb. 21 issue of The Wesleyan Argus)
Tracie McMillan is Wesleyan’s Koeppel Journalism Fellow and author of The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table, a New York Times Bestseller. Her recent work appears in Best Food Writing 2013 and she has received a James Beard Award, the Sidney Hillman Prize, the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism and other national awards for her writing about food, consumers’s choices and other social issues.
Q: How did you become a reporter?
A: I became a reporter after interning at the Village Voice under Wayne Barrett. Wayne was the City Politics investigative reporter at the Voice for around 40 years; he left the Voice a couple of years ago. Every semester, he had a cadre of interns who would come in and help him do his work, and that was one of the internships I had as an undergraduate. I did well there, and got on well with Wayne, and that led me into doing reporting work.
When I took that internship, I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to be a journalist. I knew that I wanted to do something with writing, and I had a vague idea that I would work at a magazine, but I hadn’t really thought through the specifics of that. And certainly at the time, I think I was more interested in national politics, and Wayne’s work was very local. But I lucked into getting paired with him at the Voice, and that put me on that path.
Q: What brought you to Wesleyan?
A: [Director of Writing Programs] Anne Greene brought me to Wesleyan. I have a little bit of a relationship with Wesleyan. In 2006, I got a Davidoff scholarship to attend the Wesleyan Writers Conference. That was when I had just gone freelance. I had taken some time off, and I had taken basically half my life savings and gone traveling for six months. Because I had been working since I was 14, and I had this epiphany—I was about 29 at the time—that I had always been working, and I had never stopped to figure out where I wanted to go; I just went where it seemed like I could go… I didn’t really know if the work I was doing as a journalist was what I really wanted to dedicate myself to, or if maybe there was something else I wanted to be doing. And I didn’t really know myself well enough to make that call, and I realized that I was at a point in my life where I didn’t have anything tying me to any one place.
And once I had enough time to really clear my head, I kept coming back to writing. I didn’t just want to write about me, myself, and I; I wanted to write about the world.